Playing like a cross between Trainspotting and Office Space, Welsch-import Human Traffic presents the weekend exploits of a five-pack of twenty-nothings looking to explode the boredom of their week-a-day lives. Stuck in jobs like fry-cook and shirt-stacker, these folks let loose in Ecstacy-induced rave binges. Built around one wild weekend, Human Traffic contains some insightful moments, like one character, a record shop employee, marking up a hard-core hip-hop record because the rappers are crackheads on death row. The price, he claims, will only go up the closer the group gets to the chair. A fish-eyed musical sequence follows that is so full of joy that it momentarily elevates Human Traffic to a euphoric level.
In fact, Human Traffic contains a lot of meta-moments where the characters' imaginations take over. Sometimes ithey work (like a fast-food joint staff doing old-school robotic breakdance moves to show how menial and impersonal their tasks are) and sometimes they don't (like the ludicrous sight of a worker literally getting screwed by "The Man"). This technique makes the film too winky and mannered, but at least I can say that I've never actually seen someone blow smoke out of their ass in a movie before.
As for the characters, there are times when they are interesting, but more often than not they are just cliches. Having them sit around slamming easy targets like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls or analyze how Star Wars is really all about drug culture just comes off as a desperate ploy for Tarantino-esque cleverness. They also spout nonsense drug philosophy about being part of a "movement", then reverse it by saying things like "what was I saying again?" But the film clearly believes that the characters are up to something important. Sadly, they're not.
The film's treatment of drugs is disingenuous. In that respect it is the opposite of Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream. There are no scenes that actually show the characters taking drugs and an E-fueled high is simulated with draggy-slomo straight from a TV movie.
Human Traffic is one of those films that simply tries to define a group of characters that the filmmakers thought were interesting, but it is too inconsistent and shallow to really work.
The video looks good. It's anamorphic and has bright, crisp colors. The cinematography is not as stylized as the filmmakers may have hoped for, but it at least the transfer is good.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. It doesn't have as much kick as you'd expect for such a music-driven film. The movie never lets us understand why it is that music has become the central point of this youth culture. Perhaps that's because the music used is a weak approximation of actual jungle/techno/drum and bass. It sounds more like washed-up disco. Besides, it needs more thump to really rave.
There's a trailer as well as trailers for other Miramax releases such as Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine, and 54, but if that entices you to buy this disc you've got your priorities all screwed up.
Human Traffic never really paints as vivid a picture of a scene or of individuals as it wants. The characters are blandly drawn, the story is weak, and the drama is virtually non-existant (did I mention that a major part of the film centers around one character's inability to get it up?), and yet it's very self-conscious about the way it tells its story. Trainspotting, an obvious favorite of these filmmakers (it is even referenced in the film's dialog) may have been very stylized but it used technique to create original and kinetic characters. Nobody here is as weird and fascinating as Begbie, Spud, or Sick Boy. If the Human Traffic filmmakers had spent more time on old-fashioned atmosphere and character development and less time thinking up nifty fantasy sequences they might have made a more interesting film.